Review of "The Crown": Then vs. Now
by Bryanie Geehan
Level 3 History student
Netflix’s The Crown depicts the life of Queen Elizabeth II, from 1952 and the death of her father, King George VI, to the birth of her youngest son Prince Edward in 1964. It tackles issues such as the Great Smog of London, the Suez Crisis of 1956, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. The current seasons show how Queen Elizabeth handled her new role as monarch throughout the early years of her reign, and examines the role of the royal family and what was expected of them. However, when comparing the monarchy in the 1950s and 1960s to the present day, there are a few differences, especially concerning views on marriage. The recent marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle highlights just how far the monarchy’s role and beliefs has changed compared with the time period portrayed in The Crown.
Many of the story lines of The Crown focus on the personal lives of the royal family and their choice of partners. Season 1 provided a glimpse of the 1936 ‘Abdication Crisis’ created by Edward VIII when he renounced his royal title in order to marry the woman he loved, Wallis Simpson. There is also some focus on Queen Elizabeth II’s sister, Princess Margaret, and her failed romance with Peter Townsend, a divorcee, and later in season 2, her marriage to Anthony Armstrong-Jones. In both narratives, the royals concerned are forbidden from marrying the person they love, and The Crown shows the emotional turmoil they faced. Edward is presented as someone who deserts the royal family for an undesirable woman and was shown to face opposition from the palace and the government as his lover had two living husbands. During this time, the Church of England stated that marriage to a divorcee with a living spouse was forbidden, especially for the King who was the head of the Church of England.
However, if compared to today’s royal family, we can see a modernisation in this rule shown through the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Much like Wallis Simpson, Markle is an American divorcee. However, her marriage to Harry faced seemingly little opposition from the royal family. Whilst Wallis Simpson had been previously married twice, and was still married when she began her love affair with Edward, Markle has only married once before. However, Markle’s previous marriage did not threaten her marriage to Prince Harry unlike Wallis Simpson.
Furthermore, as shown in Season 1 of The Crown, Princess Margaret was unable to marry Peter Townsend due to his divorce, again showing a huge change in the way the monarchy views marriage. This modernisation can also be traced back to the 1990s as during this decade three of the Queen’s children obtained divorces: Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips in 1992, Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales in 1996, and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson later in the same year. The divorces of three of the Queen’s children show the way in which the views around divorce became more relaxed, compared to the period depicted on The Crown. The remarriage of Prince Charles to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, shows a significant modernisation of the monarchy as he was able to marry a divorcee, whose ex-spouse was still living, much like Prince Harry.
However, although The Crown portrays the royal family’s strict rules on marriage and divorce, it does also show some similarities between royal weddings in the 1950s and 1960s and those of today. When the newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex made their way through Windsor on the 19 May 2018, huge crowds lined the streets waiting to greet the couple. This welcoming reception from the public is also portrayed in The Crown, in the depiction of Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones’ wedding. In scenes showing Margaret and Tony travelling to Westminster Abbey to marry, huge crowds of people are shown on the streets waiting to catch a glimpse of the couple. This is similar to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding, showing that there have been few changes in the popularity of the monarchy and how the public react to them.
The Crown shows how the monarchy has historically opposed potentially damaging marriages among younger royals. However, when this is compared to the modern-day monarchy, we can see a significant modernisation through the marriages of royals and the changes in attitudes towards divorce. Although The Crown may show a very conservative and traditional monarchy, it does show some aspects of the monarchy which are very similar today.
The Crown is available to stream on Netflix. Season three has been confirmed for release in 2019, with Olivia Colman taking on the lead role of Queen Elizabeth.